Jo Falls, Tohono Chul Director of Education, Retires After Thirty-Four Years of Dedication and Service

December 17, 2020

You can’t know Tohono Chul without knowing Jo Falls. She has been at Tohono Chul since its very beginning thirty-four years ago, and she is as much an institution as the institution itself. Even though Tohono Chul is considered a quaint hidden oasis at the busy intersection of Ina and Oracle, deemed “One of the World’s Ten Best Botanical Gardens” by Travel + Leisure Magazine and celebrated by Tucson as one of its best-kept secrets for over a quarter of a century, it still holds an abundance of memories for Jo Falls. She was here to see it grow from humble beginnings to a full-fledged organization over thirty years later.

 Whether it was starting as the Office Manager in 1986 or finishing her career as the Director of Education and Visitors Services, Falls has held a lengthy thirty-four-year career playing many roles at the burgeoning non-profit, six to be exact. Each one morphing into the next to accommodate the growing organizational needs. But this has been a labor of love for Falls who herself has seen a lot of admiration and dedication drive Tohono Chul to new heights, ones that were never before imagined, even by The Wilsons.

It was through the generosity and vision of Dick and Jean Wilson that Tohono Chul was created. What was sparked from a passion project to preserve this special vestige of land from development, evolved into a non-profit whose mission was to enrich people’s lives by connecting them with the wonders of nature, art, and culture in the Sonoran Desert region and inspiring wise stewardship of the natural world. “No one has done more to bring the mission to life than Jo Falls. Her encyclopedic knowledge of the natural and cultural history of our region is equaled only by her passion for sharing it with others” says Executive Director Christine Conte.

Her career goes beyond the cursory planning of classes, tours, and curriculum, you can see her spirit and love of the desert woven into every aspect of this place. Imbuing a love for lifelong learning for future generations to come.

She has been the epitome of stewardship for Tohono Chul. No one has dedicated more of themselves to this place than Jo Falls and staff and volunteers come together to celebrate her retirement along with her exceptional contributions in making Tohono Chul the unique, hidden gem it is. Falls knows just how unique Tohono Chul is and “believes that together we made something beautiful that will last long beyond my tenure or anyone else’s who comes after me. All I ask is that you take care of it.”

To A Lovely Send Off

For more than 35 years, Tohono Chul’s mission has been to enrich people’s lives by connecting them to the wonders of nature, art and culture in the Sonoran Desert region and inspiring wise stewardship of the natural world. No one, Jo, has done more to bring that mission to life than you.

I’ve heard it said that at the end of the day all that matters is love and memories so make sure you give it and make them. This book is overflowing with proof that you’ve far exceeded the mark. I am immensely grateful to you and inspired by your example.

Venture on dear Jo. With joy in your heart. On a path of your own making.

With whomever you please. And always, at your own chosen speed.

Jo has touched every volunteer, docent, program and special event here at the Park in one way or another. Her very essence is woven into every activity that takes place at Tohono Chul.

Jo is a person that cares deeply, not only for the Park itself, but its reputation and how it is perceived in the community. She holds very high standards for both her staff and those who represent the Park.

As Director of Education and Public programs she worked tirelessly to promote a variety of classes, workshops, fabulous trips and successful events that promote and further the education arm of the Park.

Jo not only cared for her department but all of the departments and has stood out as a top leader and the go-to person for Park knowledge. She is always willing to pitch in, help out, advise, encourage and will not stop working until the job is complete.

Jo has been blessed with a great mind and has used her God given talents to make Tohono Chul the very reputable gem that it’s known for in our community.

She is the legacy of the oral history of the Park!

A dear friend and a dear mentor, I wish you a well-deserved retirement.

I can hardly imagine what it must be like to retire after 35 years at Tohono Chul. It is so rare to find someone who gives such a big chunk of their career to just one institution nowadays. This is a feat to be proud of. You have set an amazing example for me that I try to emulate every day. I am especially thankful for the mentorship and trust you’ve shown me these past 3 years working together. You’ve always listened to my ideas and shared your wisdom and experience when I asked. You were an excellent mentor and I am so sad to see you go. I will miss working with you.

Here are a couple of pictures from the last docent graduation. I like them because it shows you present and supportive, letting me run the class but always there to help when it’s needed. Thank you.

I hope the pandemic gets better and that you get to travel soon. Just like you intended.

Jo, I’m trying to remember what Tohono Chul looked like when you were hired a year after it opened. It occupied 37 acres, with a few trails and desert plantings connecting the Exhibit House with the Haunted Bookshop. The Geology Wall, Demonstration Gardens, cactus enclosures were main features and Lomaki House was used for education programs. The West House, as it was called then, had rose bushes tended by Jean Wilson and served sandwiches to go. As the saying goes, it’s come a long way, baby! The Park has grown and evolved and so have you. You have left your mark on almost every aspect of the Park’s identity over the decades. Congratulations on all your accomplishments. And thank you for pouring your heart into making Tohono Chul the community gem that it is today.

Wishing you a happy retirement and a joyous pursuit of your personal dreams.

I’m afraid I’m not much of an artist, photographer, or story teller but can’t let the opportunity pass to tell Jo how much she has meant to Tohono Chul and meant to me during my time as Executive Director. Thank you, Jo, for always being there to help with whatever needed doing. Thank you for your creativity and thoughtfulness. Thank you for your knowledge of the Sonoran Desert. Especially thank you for your memory and the continuity it brings. You are the HEART of Tohono Chul. All the people you have touched and helped over the years will miss you. Tohono Chul is a better place for having you. Happy Retirement!

It has been twenty five years since we first started the conversion of the Haunted Book Shop into the Desert Education Center we know today.

That was when I met Jo Falls, and started working directly with her to strategize the best uses for the available space. Over the years, I have been amazed at the breadth of the education resources and activities at Tohono Chul. One might think that a staff of at least a dozen were dedicated to this mission; but in reality the task fell largely on Jo’s shoulders. It will be a large challenge for the current Board to find a suitable replacement for Jo Falls. I wish her the best in whatever activities she chooses to engage in the future.

I never saw Jo in front of the public, whether it was visitors, volunteers, staff, or even the Board of Directors, that she wasn’t a professional in every way.  She has been a dedicated, articulate, thoughtful, and hard working member of the Tohono Chul staff and family for over three decades.  What a wonderful person you are Jo!  Thank you for all you’ve done for the park, and thank you for enriching the lives of so many people.   

You were more familiar to me by name than Tohono Chul Park itself. My beloved father in law, Richard Case, spoke of you with such high regard, with such affection and cheeriness that I was intrigued to know who you were before I met anyone else at the park. He would be wishing you well and hopeful that your retirement was as fruitful as his. Our entire family wishes you well Jo. May the next chapter be filled with as much wonder and delight as you have brought many over the years.

I’ll never forget you as the instructor who knew everything in my docent class of 2005.  I believe that was the last class where you were the main instructor.  It was on to other things at TCP for you.  You seemed to be everywhere, and I always knew that if I asked you a question, you would know the answer.  You have no idea how many times I thought of calling you.  But there is Google now and that certainly helps.  You have helped guide TCP through all of its changes in the past 35 years.  I hope you are proud of what you were an integral part of creating.   And now you get to create another life in retirement.  As you know, there is LOTS out there.  Go out and enjoy!

Thank you, thank you for your awesome dedication to Tohono Chul. You are its Backbone!!  Your wealth of knowledge is impeccable, and I always feel my grey matter increasing with every conversation.  I’m excited for your new adventures in life, and looking forward to hearing about them.   Enjoy, have fun and Cheers!!

Jo is an awesome person and I loved working with her.

Dear Jo:  You have toiled on behalf of the Park for so long  its soul and your spirit have become one.  The consistent force moving Tohono Chul forward over the years has been the collective effort of many people, but it’s your energy and devotion that is at its core.  Tohono Chul would be a lesser place today had you not been  part of it.

As in all good books, as one chapter ends, we can’t wait to tear into the next!  May the coming years for you be filled with lots of great reading, travelling and exploring other creative adventures.   As we rush up and down the walkways at Tohono Chul, we will hope to see you sitting on a bench, relaxing and watching the birdlife, glad that it’s not you running to “put out a fire” someplace! 

I can’t believe that you are really leaving Tohono Chul. You shaped this place into exactly what the Wilsons imagined – you have left your mark here in too many ways to count. Your presence and influence will always be felt  inside the gardens, out on the trails, in each building, in the air.

For me – You came along at a crucial time in my life.  Your entrance could not have been more perfect  your understanding, welcoming, and sensitive response to me is something I will always remember. Meeting you in person was instantly comfortable – I knew I wanted to work hard for you and with you. I knew we would be friends. The things I have learned from you secure me and guide me whenever I call upon them.

Since that time six years ago, I have known you as a knowledgeable, thoughtful, and tireless boss – a true leader that leads by example  –  a constantly evolving and astonishing creative force.

I know you now as a caring, generous, and loving person, an unpretentious intellectual  with an overflowing sense of wonder – unabashedly and intrepidly curious and spirited.

I am lucky to know you. I appreciate, respect, and admire you greatly.

You are in a word  AMAZING!

After a long career covering numerous roles and responsibilities throughout Tohono Chul, the time has come for you to retire and enjoy the spoils of not working. Looking back at the two and a half years that we have worked together, my mind always goes back to my first Bloom Night. I had only been working for about a month and what I remember most is you telling the Tohono O’odham story of the Queen of the Night and Lee talking about the different varieties of Peniocereus. With the Queen of the Night exhibition in the gallery, it was amazing to see how people, who work in different departments, come together to share a common story. A story that you helped to create, evolve, and continue with the many events you helped put together and run. Your knowledge and history about Tohono Chul history knows no bounds and will be greatly missed. I wish that we could commemorate your time and achievements with a big celebration, but for now I wish you a long and enjoyable retirement!

Thank you for your support and guidance for the Reptile Ramble and throughout my career at Tohono Chul Park.  I enjoyed knowing you and wish you a fruitful and interesting retirement.

Jo, if I’d had to raise a sphinx moth eighteen years ago, I might not be writing this today! Luckily, that didn’t happen while our class successfully inaugurated the Education Center. You brought the best and the brightest Tucson had to offer to help educate our group of ten. Aided by your excellent docent manual, we all graduated and went on to share our knowledge with Tohono Chul’s guests.

Much has changed since then. Parking lots became the Desert Living Courtyard, Sin Agua Garden and the Sonoran Seasons Garden. The Palm Oasis and the Succulent Path were added. You kept me up to date on all that was happening with the information I needed to extend my knowledge.

Besides tending all the docents, you offered classes to the public. Who can forget Scott and Gregg presenting garden design and disagreeing on how irrigation should be done? I learned how many ways I can approach my own garden. Plus, their Junkyard Garden city tours taught me creative and frugal ways to do it.

You took me around Tucson to teach its history and show off its public art. You took me camping in the Pinacates and to see the sandhill cranes in New Mexico. Even though the poor cranes were stuck in ice that morning I was warm and well fed. You always discovered the best places to eat on your excursions.

You and Martha co-taught my first nature journaling class. You brought in Roseann this past year which prompted me to get back to it. Thanks.

Most of all, thanks for all the help, humor and friendship you’ve shared with me. I wish you much happiness and many adventures in your new life. I’ll miss you. To me you’re the soul of Tohono Chul!

Tell me it isn’t true…Are you leaving us on December 18th to pursue new adventures which can only be accomplished during the instar called “Retired Life”?  Are you taking your memory bank with you? The Encyclopedia Britannica doesn’t hold as much info as your brain does.

Jo, you will always hold the title,


TC would never have developed into such a refuge for Nature, Art and Culture without your leadership.  Think of the thousands and thousands of people you have reached!  Queen Jo, may you reign over your retirement days with peace of mind.  We will miss you – – – (So, whats your direct line ?)

It’s been over 17 years now, since I first began teaching landscape design and gardening classes at Tohono Chul. Jo was instrumental to my success not only as a young minority female entrepreneur, but as a woman,  she would give me pep talks and guidance that I will forever cherish, when I was shakingly entering my career.

I will never forget the chance she gave me and the confidence she had in me, having someone like her in my life as a young woman in the design field, and seeing her strength in her own self helped me have it in myself.

Jo, I remember when you first interviewed me for docent training back in 2004 you already had in mind that I’d work with you on revising the old Geology Wall signs. And it came to be.

Starting in 2006 under your direction, I led an able, enthusiastic group of fellow docents, Jim Truran, Jeanie Honn, Georgia Chapman and Mary Lee Kopen, to develop ideas for new geology wall signs. The team envisioned that the new signs would highlight important concepts, be colorful and visually appealing, and include “WOW” factors. By the summer of 2007, the team had developed the first sign mockups as shown below.

To make their ideas reality, working with park staff, our docent group also looked for potential sources of funding for the new wall signage. A significant amount of funding was needed to do the job right and that required time. Between 2007 and 2011 sources of funding were sought and acquired via several grants and donations.

During 2011, you assembled a talented graphic design and production team to produce the final signage. We had many reviews of the drafts, even one using the retired head of AZ Geological Survey, Larry Fellows. Late in 2011 the new signs were installed.

Jo, I believe that I’m one of the last still-active docents from the class of 2005. We were the last group that had the honor of having you as our instructor. No doubt you were a taskmaster and demanded a lot from us. It was serious work! But in the process, you managed to instill in us a lot of knowledge about Tohono Chul and the Sonoran Desert.

Do you remember our class project? Plant 5 by 7 notecards. We all researched several assigned plants and then shared the files for the finished project. So, we all received a copy of multiple plant cards in the same format. There was even a silly card included by one of our ornery group – recognizing? you. Our class also had a delicious lunch of desert-inspired food with recipes that you handed out. It was a great experience. All thanks to you.

When my husband and I moved from Vancouver,  Canada to Tucson in 1997, we quickly discovered and fell in love with Tohono Chul. I was so impressed with the docents, that I enrolled in the docent class that year. This was one of the best things I could’ve done to learn about the desert, to feel at home in it and to meet lifelong friends. Some of us formed a book club which is still going more than 20 years later!

Jo Falls was the driving force behind our training; her passion and commitment made a tremendous difference to our class. I think most of us remained as docents for at least ten years, a testimony to how well Jo instilled in us her passion and commitment to the park.

Though I’m no longer a docent, I often share with friends some of the wonderful information I learned.

Thank you, Jo for giving me such a deep appreciation for our beautiful desert.

Here’s wishing you the best in your retirement and travels.  You have given me many wonderful memories from the Tohono Chul trips, my favorite being the one to Chaco during Fall, 2019.  Your organizational skills are admirable!  You are the reason I became a Tohono Chul member.

You first came into our lives when we retired to Tucson in 1994 and opted to join the Tohono Chul docent training class that year.  You were the class instructor and kept us all challenged  with lectures and quizzes about the information in that massive blue notebook.  And woe betide us if we were profligate with the large paper clips.   But you also organized  excellent speakers and tours that gave us  firsthand knowledge  about our subjects.  It was a privilege to have Bunny Fontana as our class guide to the San Xavier Mission, to have lectures from experts about Native American arts and culture.  All of these and many more helped develop our love, understanding and appreciation of Tucson and the surrounding Sonoran Desert.  It gave us a firm grasp of Tohono Chul’s mission and we are eternally grateful.

Later, when doing docent assignments, it was always a pleasure to see you in the park and count you as a good friend.   We shared several  enjoyable Tohono Chul trips with you.  There was the Flagstaff trip to learn about the  Wilson legacy,  Mata Ortiz to witness pots being created on the spot, and various local day trips.   Best of all,  there was Oaxaca, where the Day of the Dead became more than  just a tourist experience.

Because of family issues, we now live an ocean away from Tucson.  But you, Tohono Chul, and Arizona will always have a place in our hearts.   Thank you for all your help over the years, and best wishes for a happy and eventful retirement.

Jo, you’ve done so many thoughtful and meaningful things for Tohono Chul.  It’s been fun and very rewarding to work with you.  The plant sale and special events come to mind.  Last week’s plant sale was different — I liked the other better.  The workshops and teaching times have been great, I especially liked the gourd workshops. Your knowledge and support will be missed.  I remember thinking several times – Jo will know the answer to a question – and you generally did.  l once remember  when you weren’t sure how old the mission cactus and palo verde in the sun dial area was.  You had an approximate age.

I have very pleasant memories of the times we crowded in Lomaki while you transferred your vast knowledge of the Sonoran Desert and Tohono Chul Park and maintained a tight discipline. You made it possible to enjoy many years as a docent passing this knowledge on to our visitors.

Thank you Jo. I hope you enjoy many years of doing whatever you want to do. Good luck.

Dear Jo – It seems like just yesterday when I sat across from you in your office to interview for the open marketing job; how the years have flown by! My time at Tohono Chul was definitely sweeter with you around. We had much fun over our years together and am happy that we have remained friends. It is hard to imagine that place without you – your brain – a constantly spinning rolodex of important historical information about such a wondrous place. Who will they turn to now?

I still have the “book of answers” you gave me when I first started – it is well worn now! When Gaia, my foreign exchange daughter arrived last August, it was waiting for her and I think she loved it as much as I did. I wish you all the best in your retirement – can’t wait to hear what you have planned for your next adventure. Let’s have dinner very soon!

To this day, I still brag a little bit about a very special colleague I once had. I’ll say: It was amazing, she’d somehow managed to know just about everything: facts, figures, faces, personalities, campaigns, successes, failures and if necessary, the location of that one picture, of that one bird, that that one volunteer took in 1998. The next minute, she’d be helping me resolve some tricky issue with the scientific name of a reptile for a publication we were collaborating on. This, of course, is Jo Falls. She deserves a significant portion of the credit for the thousands of human, animal, and plant lives that Tohono Chul has succored and nourished over the last 30 or so years.

If you’re reading this Jo, please don’t doubt for an instant that you’ve brought real, lasting good into the world, at a scale that few of us can aspire to. Now. Please. Take a richly deserved rest before your next big endeavor.

I wish you happy travels.  I know you have lots of ideas and plans. 

I hope you get to do all of them.  Thanks for your leadership over the years.  Tohono Chul will be very different without you.

Jonathan and I want to thank you for being part of several important life events for us!

We had our very first book signing for the Southern Arizona Nature Almanac – our first book!  at Haunted Bookshop in the late 1990s (the exact date eludes me!). You did such a lovely job and we’ll never forget that thrill, and such a wonderful place.

Thank you so much for all you have done to make Tohono Chul such an amazing place.  At every turn I see your touch. 

Hope you enjoy your retirement adventures and keep in touch.  We’ll miss you.

A fond and fun time for Kaylie!   In April 2015, Jo Falls and Lynn Hassler led a birding trip to Madera Canyon.   Jo used her unique skills to introduce my granddaughter to the adventure of birding.   At the end of our day, Kaylie wrote a thank you note to Jo.   She asks about Jo (that nice lady) when she visits Tucson.  It was a memorable day for us all.

I remember the first time I heard the name “Jo Falls”– spoken with much reverence.  I was on a Walk in the Park with Docent Raleigh Sheffield in the summer of 2010.  I had moved to Tucson on June 2.  After unpacking, etc., I began looking for how to garden in the desert.  I first went to the Tucson Botanical Garden–very nice but not what I was looking for.  Then I visited the Desert Museum–still not what I wanted.  I came home and googled ‘botanical gardens’ in Tucson and up came Tohono Chul Park–I had seen a sign for it on my travels around Tucson and knew it wasn’t too far away.  I signed up for A Walk in the Park at TCP on July 2 (one month after moving to AZ) with Raleigh.  I became a member that day!  After a number of WIP’s with Raleigh that summer, he finally said to me, “I think you’d like the Docent Class.”  The rest, as they say, is history.  I finally met Jo Falls on January 5, 2011 (according the the Docent Class Schedule 2010-2011) when she spoke to our class.  I came to know her as being extremely knowledgeable on most everything to do with the park and have learned since then that an enormous part of the success of Tohono Chul is due to Jo’s outstanding abilities and dedication.  I am extremely thankful that the park has thrived under her leadership.  I wish her the best in her retirement with many thanks on behalf of all of us. 

I became a Tohono Chul Docent with the class of 2011.  I now live in Scottsdale, but my heart is still at Tohono Chul Over those ten years, I came to understand all that Jo Falls has done during her tenure at TC. I don’t have pictures or stories to share but I do want to express my gratitude. When we were in class, we learned of all the many opportunities to volunteer in various parts of TC. I had no idea that there was much more to do and explore besides the beautiful gardens. As we all did, we found a “niche” that fit with our interests. I enjoyed all the activities, but my 3 favorites were Desert Players, New Member Tour and the Exhibit House tours. I would like to thank Jo for her support of these programs that meant so much to me.  Jo brought to life the Tohono Chul mission connecting Nature, Art and Culture. Many thanks Jo for all you made possible. I hope you enjoy retirement and wish you all the best. 

My fondest memory of Jo is both of us trying not to laugh when we were playing the William Tell Overture on kazoos during a very early ‘Desert Home Theater’ puppet show. Those original puppet shows morphed into the present-day Desert Players, and Jo has always been a great fan and supporter. So, on behalf of the Desert Players, past and present, thanks Jo for your trust in us and your enthusiasm for our troupe. You will always be a part of each show we give.

Barb Pepper, director, and Rumpy the Javelina, Jacqueline Jackrabbit, and the happy gang of desert critters.

Jo, I just wanted to thank you so much for always being there whenever I had a question and always being so willing to help whenever I needed anything. I don’t have any stories to share, just a heartfelt appreciation for everything that you do to make things work smoothly around here. One other thing, I salute your enthusiasm for everything related to the Gardens, even after all the years you have been here. I hope you will always be available if we have a question about the history of the Gardens, which no-one knows better than you. Have a wonderful retirement Jo and safe travels. 

Tohono Chul will greatly miss all of your knowledge and no nonsense approach. Thank you for all of the help you provided me my time there.Your support meant more to me than you will ever know. I can’t wait to see what you do now that you’ll be left to your own devices. I’m sure it will be surprising and make a difference. But I also hope you take some time to enjoy, you truly deserve it.

Wishing you all the best,

I can honestly say that Jo has been a force in our lives ever since we arrived in Tucson about 15 years ago from New York. I had just been hired as the Tohono Chul Marketing Director — and for the first several months I moved out to Tucson alone, as husband Leigh stayed back to sell our NY home and settle our son in a Manhattan apartment. Those early days in the desert were full of both wonder and terror, as I learned about desert crawlies, summer’s blistering heat and my first monsoons. Jo was Education Director, and from her I learned so much about our native arts, land and culture, as well as about Tohono Chul and our programs. She was the one to teach me about Tohono Chul’s diverse collections of plants, geological features, history and traditions. She introduced me to our indigenous foods — I still have her mesquite cookie and her cholla bud recipes! From Jo, Leigh and I acquired a deep respect for our desert, its peoples and cultures.

As she embarks on her next chapter, we hope it is filled with contentment, adventures, good health…and lots of chocolate. May all the enthusiasm and educational insights that she shared with others be returned to her with gusto. Blessings, Jo, I still owe you a coffee!

Can’t imagine Tohono Chul without you.  

You and your docent class were my wonderful introduction to Tucson.  The incredible course that you put together was the foundation for my loving the desert for the twenty-five years that we’ve lived here.  Thank you for helping this California transplant feel at home with the beautiful Sonoran Desert plants and animals.   And you have done it over and over again for your countless students of all ages.

Thank you for EVERYTHING you have done to make Tohono Chul such a terrific place. 

Best wishes for a wonderful retirement with more exploration and discovery! 

My memory easily  recalls when YOU joined Tohono Chul Park.  Alice Herman proudly introduced you.

Jo, you are a legacy for the Wilsons founding, establishing, bequeathing their CORNER at Ina and Oracle to Tucson.

With the help of volunteers, staff, donors, and YOU by Alice’s side the Wilson’s Corner, Tohono Chul Park, was meticulously groomed for success.

Jo, in my opinion, from day one your care and attention fulfilled the Wilson’s gift — Tohono Chul Park — to all who are welcomed here.

Best wishes for your retirement may you be nourished, sustained with health and goodwill.

Jo, so sorry to see you go and wishing you all the best in your retirement!

I have been at Tohono Chul as a volunteer for only four years and have not had a lot of occasions to be working with Jo. However Jo strikes me as the precision watchmaker of the organization.

Every event, plant sale, docent education program, lecture, class and workshop offered at Tohono Chul, as well as the opportunities for educational travel, art exhibits and financial purse strings bear Jo’s special touch and quiet background presence. The ultimate organizer, she knows precisely what is needed when, to keep things running smoothly. My primary experience is seeing Jo at the plant sales,  a greeter is needed to direct people where to go, or to explain the process of dealing with the different vendors, so monsoon madness does not turn into a madhouse. Jo will always be quietly making sure everything runs like clockwork and is set up just perfectly while cheerfully interacting with customers at the cash register.

Like the best Swiss watch Jo has every wheel interact with the next with precise timing and precision, a process so flawless that it almost goes unnoticed and might get taken for granted. But Jo we want you to know that your skills have been very much appreciated by us all, and finding someone who can keep your well oiled machine running so smoothly will not be an easy task!

Jo, thank you for all you have done for Tohono Chul over all the years you have been here!

You will be missed!

How can I recall all the memories of contacts with you?  From the casual drop-ins at La Galeria on Friday afternoon to the interactions at plant sales, wildflower festivals, galas, and all of Linda’s sales, to the birding and wildflower trips we took.

I remember the hawk watch when there were no hawks, the sandhill cranes trip when we froze to death and watched the ducks walk on the ice, then roll into the water when the ice ended, the wildflower trip when we finally found a mariposa lily. All good times and good memories.

I’ll miss you.  Have fun with the kittens!

For more than 20 years I have had the privilege of co-leading natural history trips with Jo, and there have been many adventures.  One that recently came to mind was a birding trip to the Anza Trail along the Santa Cruz River.  Our bus dropped us off at Tumacacori Mission.  We headed out on the trail towards the river and birded for several hours north towards Tubac.  It was spring and there were Summer Tanagers, Vermilion Flycatchers, White-breasted Nuthatches, Wilsons and Yellow Warblers – crowd pleasers to be sure. On our return journey, I realized that somehow, we had missed the turnoff to the Mission.  I guess you could say we were sort of lost.  But Jo and I weren’t overly concerned because we could see the Mission and also hear the traffic whizzing by on Interstate 19. A couple of our participants started getting anxious, and one woman suggested we use her cell phone to call 911 for a rescue.  This was in the days before GPS and apps.  Jo and I both had to stifle our laughter because we were so close to where we were supposed to be, and cell phone coverage was marginal at best.  Plus, if we did get through to someone, how would we describe our location?  Jo, calm as always, suggested we turn around and retrace our steps.  Within 10 minutes we found the correct cutoff and made it back to the Mission in short order to dine on another delicious lunch planned by Jo. 

You have worked long and hard to give so many an appreciation of nature, especially that of the  Sonoran Desert. Your love and respect for the desert has been infectious. Better still, you have passed on not just a sense of wonder and awe toward the desert but a duty to preserve and protect it so that future generations will share in its secrets. It’s  been a privilege knowing  you and be assured I will do my part to carry on your message.

I hope you enjoy your next journey, wherever it takes you.

Jo, you have probably come to realize that you are much more to us than the Director of Education at Tohono Chul, and more than our former boss. You have become a true friend, a sister of our hearts and a member of our family.

We wish you the best as you begin a new chapter in your life. Here’s to new adventures, much laughter and joy. Or as the Scots say “Yer a long time deid” which translates to – “Seize the day and live life to the fullest, you never know what might happen”

“Thanks” for the memories: the pots, the jewelry, the boojums, the whales, the birds, the pearls, the poco locos, the seafood delights, Piet and Mary, David and Jennifer, Stephen, long van rides, long bus rides, Baja, Costa Rica, Yucatan,  Pueblos, wildflower trips, plant sales, docent programs, gallery shows, holiday lights and hot chocolate…..

When we first came from the Midwest, it was you who introduced me to this foreign desert with it’s unique plants, animals, culture and history.  And you awoke in Chuck, a city boy, his interest in the outdoors and nature.  At first he saw you as a very strong woman, but upon hearing about your cat family, he realized you also have a softer side.

And so our friendships grew especially with our Tohono Chul trips.  You enhanced our travels with your knowledge and always positive, adventuresome attitude, no matter what befell us. You certainly could lead us to wonderful eating experiences (chocolate in Mexico!), and your cooking expertise showed up at home on Christmas Eves with the Poco Locos.  Knowing you has enriched our lives.

Now that you are retiring, we know you will continue ahead with new adventures, travels,  and challenges, and we wish you fulfillment and happiness along the way. 

I wish you the very happy life in retirement that you deserve. Many of us who knew you at Tohono Chul over several years know that the success of this important park in Tucson is and was due to your leadership in ideas for Tohono Chul, carrying on the wishes of its founders and making sure its staff and volunteers carry on their intentions in actions as well.

I lived in Phoenix for many years. There were many desert plants surrounding my home. I knew their common name. Period. I saw birds and other desert animals, some the name. Period.

I was a volunteer in several non-profits, gave 20 years to Habitat for Humanity, started it in Phoenix, later, the International Board, taking me to many parts of the world.

When I moved to Tucson ten  years ago, I needed to find a way to volunteer. I saw an invitation to be a volunteer or even a docent at Tohono Chul. I signed up. You and Tom McDonald changed my life. I felt like Alice in wonderland. I learned about desert nature, its interactions., how people lived in the desert without any other resources, showed how the food chain works. I now understood what I had looked at for years, knew the name maybe, but had zero understanding of my surroundings. I never took any course in college that touched me so deeply, nor held my interest so deeply, due to your way of making your students feel like discoverers in the desert. I taught school for several years and liked it, but never had the enjoyment I’ve had as a docent. I am so grateful to you for the continuing education that  I have enjoyed after I became a docent and still goes on.

I cannot thank you enough for enriching my life.  May you remain safe and happy,

Director of Education – there could hardly be a better title for you.  Thanks to Tohono Chul and your efforts, these two former Midwesterners have learned more than we ever imagined possible about the Southwest and its plants, animals, history and culture.

Much of our learning has occurred on Tohono Chul trips and travels.  Some have been day trips, some have been longer excursions.  Each has been filled with experiences that taught us about the Southwest and raised our awareness of and appreciation for where we now live.  In each of the 32 trips we have participated in (it would have been 34 by now if not for Covid-19!) we have learned.  It is thanks to you for making sure there were experts along who loved to share their knowledge. It is thanks to you for making sure those trips had a mix of predictability and adventure that made them memorable.

In addition to the trips and travels, we have learned in the park and at home as well.  Whether being joined by a docent (trained by you) during a walk in the park, or attending a class or presentation in the park (led by you or organized by you), or reading Tohono Chul @ home emails during the Pandemic (put together by you), we have always learned.

We view ourselves as very fortunate to have found Tohono Chul early in our time of living here.  It has given us a sense of attachment to where we now live, and has brought us together with strangers that have become friends.  The trips and travels we have done with the park have been major items in our calendars for these years, and the park has been a source of pride and joy when we take out of town visitors there to show them the desert plants.  In all of these things, the opportunity to learn and expand our horizons has been an underlying element, and your influence in providing those learning opportunities is undeniable.

Finally, while Director of Education may be a nearly perfect title, there is more.  Through all of our associations and the trips and travels and classes and dinners and lunches with you, you have become a great and cherished friend.  Thank you for everything, but especially for that friendship!

Synonymous: Tohono Chul Park  and  Jo Falls

My first Tohono Chul Park stories began with Jo, just as they will continue. Spiriting away my daughter and friend for some sack lunch breaks from Orange Grove Junior High to the Park in 1985-86,  planted the seed for my 24-years of volunteering here launched by master classes in Sonoran nature, designed by Jo Falls. I began as a Gallery volunteer, then worked in the Parks museum shops usually seeing Jo on her administrative strolls, strolls that would find her meandering through the Garden Bistro patio, plant sales, concerts and fund raisers, most long after official  hours as she oversaw special exhibits, trained docents and managed nature tours and travel.  Once, during a docent-led ramble through the “Queen of the Night” Park salute to the Night Blooming Cereus, I remarked to a fellow volunteer that Jo could possibly be the Queen of the Scene at Tohono Chul Park.  I would see her early mornings on occasion from the Childrens Garden when I brought my grandchildren to enjoy the Gardens’ games and sit on the bench Grampa Fenton gave me as a birthday present many years ago.

The glowing comments from guests I sent to this sanctuary we know as Tohono Chul Park, brought me as a 25-year hotel concierge in the Old Pueblo somewhat undeserved acclaim from travelers to Tucson from around the world who gave the Park and the concierge kudos  on guest comment cards and Trip Advisor! For this, for the memories with family visits and the countless volunteer friends I’ve made here across the years, I owe (as many of us do) in large part to Jo Falls as curator extraordinaire of this desert oasis.

Jo Falls dedicated her nearly 35 years to something Ken Burns challenged the world to aspire to in his documentary series on The National Parks: to do something beautiful that would last!   Jo did many things beautifully that will last in the memories of legions of members and countless visitors who will experience her fingerprint her footprint on this Sonoran Desert treasure for the ages.  Bloom on Jo !

Wishing you miles to go before you sleep,

In December of 2012, an extraordinary opportunity came our way and as the saying goes, “a beautiful relationship was born”.   And while we knew this well-deserved day would come, it is bittersweet to say goodbye.  Our amazing journeys broadened our horizons on so many levels.  So let’s be nostalgic as it’s awe-inspiring to look back at all the exceptional destinations we traveled to and the over-the-top itineraries we created…

  • October 2013 ~ Grand Canyon & Zion National Parks
  • December 2013 ~ Santa Fe Holiday
  • May 2014 ~ Canyon De Chelly/Hubbell Trading Post
  • February 2015 ~ Desert-n-Sea, Puerto Penasco
  • March 2015 ~ Missions of Altar Valley
  • October 2015 ~ Chihuahua   Adventure, Copper Canyon
  • April 2016 ~ Baja North to South
  • November 2016 ~ Epicurean, Santa Fe
  • February 2017 ~ Desert-n-Sea, Puerto Penasco
  • March 2017 ~ Botanical Gardens, Southern California
  • October 2017 ~ Land of the Seri
  • March 2018 ~ Death Valley
  • September 2018 ~ First Nations, Vancouver & Vancouver Island
  • March 2019 ~ Ash Wednesday, Colonial Alamos
  • May 2019 ~ Hopi
  • September 2019 ~ Chaco Canyon
  • November 2019 ~ Santa Fe and Acoma

Your passion to explore and always think creatively gave us the capacity to showcase what we do best…  And the value you added is irreplaceable.   You will forever earn the coveted “favorite client of the year award” and we will miss you oh… so… much… Enjoy your retirement, you deserve it! 

Wow, it’s actually here, after almost 35 years, you are off to parts unknown, and as attested to by the many cards, and letters, and acknowledgements in this book,  your blood, sweat, and tears were not in vain. So many people were touched by, empowered by, and encouraged by your words and deeds. You brought the Wilsons’ vision to life with your passion, commitment and determination. You are so much more than a person who developed and led programs, so much more than the caretaker, the gatekeeper, the all-knowing Guru. You are so much more than the heart and soul of Tohono Chul. You are Tohono Chul.

Thank you Jo, for your council, your support and your friendship.

Thank you Jo for all your love and devotion to Tohono Chul.

This place will not be the same without you!